How much do professors work?

Outside academia, it is commonly underestimated how demanding a university professor’s job is. People often just think of the number of teaching hours per week – which is like estimating the workload of a musician or an actor only by the time spent on stage – and are not aware of how many other tasks professors must handle at the same time. An incomplete list of these tasks is given below. The amount of time spent on each one varies widely across different institutions and disciplines and is very hard to estimate, so this is not attempted here.


For each course:

  • Select a textbook, learn/refresh the material, prepare lectures (at least 2 hours of preparation for each 1 hour of lecturing)
  • Deliver lectures
  • Hold office hours
  • Answer students’ emails
  • Prepare homework and exams
  • Supervise the work of lab and homework TAs
  • Grade exams and other assignments
  • Assign final grades
  • In some cases, eventually develop lecture notes into a textbook


For each research project:

  • Come up with an idea
  • Read relevant literature and talk to experts
  • Often, get stuck and return to the first step
  • Develop results
  • Write a conference paper
  • Prepare a talk
  • Travel to a conference/workshop to present it
  • Write a journal paper
  • Revise it (possibly several times) in response to referee comments
  • Travel to other universities to present and discuss the work
  • In some cases, eventually develop research results into a book

Fundraising and student supervision

For each research project:

  • Come up with an idea
  • Write a research proposal to get funding
  • Funding often denied, return to the first step
  • Hire a graduate student to work on the project
  • Train the student to do research, write papers, and present the work
  • Write regular progress reports to the funding agency
  • In some cases, travel to personally report to the program manager


  • Serve on various university committees
  • Serve on doctoral committees of graduate students
  • Review other people’s papers and proposals
  • Serve on journal editorial boards and conference organizing and program committees
  • Write recommendation letters for students and colleagues
  • Participate in the hiring and mentoring of new faculty


  • Respond to email
  • Attend seminars
  • Make preparations for trips (book flights, hotels, etc.)
  • Prepare documents for internal promotion and tenure
  • Maintain a website (and maybe a blog like this one)